Much like we call dogs Spot or a bird Tweety, cows also have a popular nickname. Rather, nicknames. But cows don’t get their nickname from how they look or the sounds they make. Instead, the many nicknames of cows all connect to one word: Bos.
What does that mean? Bos is the word for cow in Latin. It also refers to cattle in general, meaning ox and bull as well. In fact, in the biological hierarchy, cattle are part of the genus named Bos.
Bos first became a popular term in America when referring to bison before coming to be another way of saying “cow.” The spelling has changed with time, and another way to refer to a cow is now “boss,” not to be confused with the popular Southern nickname, Hoss. Some farmers only deem a cow boss, though, when she is the boss, or the leader, of the herd. So the cow leading the herd to the milking parlor is a lot more likely to be called Bossy than a cow following her. Boss is also immortalized in how some farmers call cows home. How? The call brought “coboss,” one of many variations of the “come boss” call, into the English dictionary.
If not called Boss, a cow might be nicknamed Bossy, but this is not a nickname relating to a cow that likes to order others in the herd around. In the nineteenth century, people began using it as a familiar name for a cow. That sounds a lot like another popular nickname for cows, though.
Bessie and Bess are other cow nicknames that evolved from Bos. While there isn’t a definitive origin for the change, Bessie has become a common variation for Bossy on American farms due to the corruption of the Latin word Bos. With the change, mascots, statues, and beloved local cattle called Bessie have appeared in American culture.
These nicknames have survived for generations on America’s dairy farms. When giving an affectionate call for Bossy, remember the tradition for a cow nickname different from that of other animals like Rover and Mittens.